Tentative Review #4

Frank Zappa
Chunga's Revenge

(released 1970)

1. Transylvania Boogie *****
2. Road Ladies ***1/2
3. Twenty Small Cigars *****
4. The Nancy & Mary Music ****
5. Tell Me You Love Me **1/2
6. Would You Go All The Way? ***
7. Chunga's Revenge ****
8. The Clap ***1/2
9. Rudy Wants To Buy Yez A Drink ***
10.Sharleena ***1/2



Frank Zappa may be respected as a rare musical genius, but Chunga's Revenge isn't usually thought of as one of his better works. Had it appeared immediately after Freak Out!, it might have been considered a classic -- but coming as it did after Hot Rats, Uncle Meat and We're Only In It For The Money, many fans find it a bit disappointing.

And, in fact, CR isn't quite as good as the aforementioned albums.

But the overall quality of the music doesn't support excessive complaining. It may not be Zappa's magnum opus, but CR is still a pretty damned good album, with two instrumental tracks which are among his best, and two others which come pretty close.

Given that they're seldom mentioned in "all-time best Zappa" lists, "Transylvania Boogie" and "Twenty Small Cigars" should be considered among the most underrated tracks of his career. The former gets its five-star rating for its subtle shift from eclectic jazz-rock guitar to a more traditional (though still good) blues-rock bit. The interplay between the various instruments at the beginning of this song is amazing, as is Zappa's lead guitar performance. An excellent opening track.

"Twenty Small Cigars" merits its rating by virtue of being one of the most precise, concise, understated and touching moments in Zappa's career. However much some might wish to deny it, Zappa could write beautiful music when he wanted to -- and this was obviously one such occasion.

"The Nancy & Mary Music" and "Chunga's Revenge" are also fairly good. The former is an (apparently) improvised band showcase, highlighted by Duke's scat vocals and ... well, more guitar solos. I'll give Zappa some credit also for having the nerve to include a drum solo so close to the beginning of the track. "Chunga's Revenge" is probably best known for Ian Underwood's wah-wah saxophone solo, although that part of the song is probably more a gimic than a real artistic statement -- the guitar parts in the second half of the song are better. "The Clap" is a brief (c. 90 seconds) drums/percussion piece which follows immediately thereafter (and is performed entirely by Zappa). It's not a very substantial composition, but I suppose it wasn't supposed to be.

As to the other songs ... "Road Ladies" is a semi-novelty blues-rock piece detailing -- not surprisingly -- various events of life on the road (Zappa keeps the stupid sexual innuendo to an absolute minimum, focusing instead on the lousy sound quality at his gigs). A throwaway, but harmless.

"Tell Me You Love Me" is the weakest track on the album -- a relatively unchallenging work of '60s-style American pop-rock. The track isn't really a high watermark for Flo & Eddie as guest vocalists either. Not a horrible song, but nothing to get excited over.

"Would You Go All The Way?" and "Rudy Wants To Buy Yez A Drink" are both pretty close to being write-offs. The former deals with the amorous adventures of U.S.O. officers, the latter with the activities of a mafia union leader. The latter is funnier, the former better musically (mostly due to George Duke's brassy work towards the end). Again, these tracks are harmless, but inessential.

This leaves "Sharleena", a well-composed track which comes surprisingly close to pop accessibility (Zappa could also write music like this when he wanted to). It isn't "essential Zappa" either, but it's decent for what it is.

A newcomer to Zappa's works would be advised start with works such as Hot Rats, The Grand Wazoo, Uncle Meat, etc. etc. For the convinced fan, though, Chunga's Revenge makes for a decent listen -- it's not a classic, but it's better than its reputation might suggest.

The Christopher Currie

(review originally posted to alt.music.yes on 22 Apr 1997; revised 5 Apr 2000)

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